Sometimes when I'm at a movie screening, I feel like a spy. This is especially true when I'm screening a children's movie, trying to hide behind my bucket of popcorn and hoping no one notices that a) I'm not eight years old and b) I'm scribbling notes. Of course I'm supposed to be there. The movie's publicist has even saved a seat for me. But at kids' movies, by the first time the five-year-old behind me squeals with delight at a gag that barely registered on my laugh-o-meter, I've figured out that I'm clearly not the target audience—and I start paying attention not just to the screen, but also to my fellow critics. And don't let those cherubic faces fool you. Elementary schoolers are a tough crowd.

Eddie Murphy as Evan, Yara Shahidi as Olivia

Eddie Murphy as Evan, Yara Shahidi as Olivia

Imagine That seeks their stamp of approval with the tale of seven-year-old Olivia, who is coping with her parents' split—and her father's scant attention—with the help of a security blanket. That blanket, draped over her head, gives her access to an imaginary world full of castles and dragons, three princesses, and one queen. And it turns out that this royal family has quite the knack for picking winning stocks. Huh?

Well, you see, the absentee dad is a stockbroker. Ah! Played by Eddie Murphy, Evan is occupied—preoccupied and postoccupied (if I can make up a word)—by his job. It's never clearly stated, but it's implied this probably has something to do with the dissolution of his marriage. And clearly it's keeping him from being a good father. He doesn't seem to have the time or the will to focus on his daughter. But it's not as though he doesn't want kids. "I just didn't know I'd be so bad at it," he tells his ex-wife (Nicole Ari Parker as Trish).

Olivia shows her dad how to really put on the mustard

Olivia shows her dad how to really put on the mustard

Evan finds the will to focus on his daughter when, after a series of comic hijinks, he realizes Olivia's blanket and imaginary friends have inside information on the companies he's researching for his clients. (Securities blanket, get it?) Evan becomes the talk of Denver's financial world with advice like, "Sell this company because it's a crybaby that's going to run home to momma," "Buy this company because it's sparkly," and, "These companies are kissing and kissing leads to marriage (and mergers)." If seven-year-olds ran the financial world, things would be much simpler, no? At the very least, we might be able to get a straight answer about mortgage-backed securities. I have a feeling the word "poop" would be involved.

In order to get all of this information from the princesses and queen, Evan starts actually spending time with his daughter. Olivia teaches her dad how to come with her to her imaginary (or is it?) world. The story suggests a number of things about Olivia's blanket: it is a mystical "weave" that allows people (especially children) to develop their third eye and become seers; it's a security blanket plain and simple, and the world it evinces is all in a neglected little girl's imagination; it's something in between. The movie never really takes care to sort this out, probably wanting to leave the question open with a whimsical question mark.

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The magic blanket is the key

The magic blanket is the key

Or perhaps the movie doesn't clear up the question because it's all beside the point. This is a movie about a father learning to connect with his daughter. If you dwell on the ways the movie doesn't quite add up or seems to be not quite funny enough, you'd miss the point. Well, you wouldn't miss the point. But you'd be unduly frustrated. Instead, just listen to those kids around you laughing at Eddie Murphy doing a dance for Queen Kwally. Kids love to see adults acting silly. It's like the best special effect ever. And Murphy dances, grimaces, slides, and pratfalls with manic abandon.

Still, I have to say, it seemed like Murphy was phoning in some of those dance moves. And as a goofy rival at this firm, Thomas Hayden Church's Johnny Whitefeather was more ridiculous than ridiculously funny. And I think Church knew it. But I don't think the kids around me knew it. We're used to "children's" movies that entertain the whole family. And this movie isn't going to entertain parents the same way that some of the recent, clever offerings from the likes of Pixar engage people of all ages. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I would argue that there are points at which Imagine That dwells too much on Evan's angst and loses the kids too.

But as long as Murphy is being silly, the kids laugh. Their affinity for an adult, even one on the big screen, who is willing to play with them is palpable. And at the end, even the movie critic got a bit teary. Imagine that!

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why do you think Evan thought it was easier to wheel and deal in the world of high finance rather than to be a father to his own child?

  2. Have you ever found comfort in a physical object like a blanket? What was the object and why do you think it provided that comfort?

  3. How does your imagination play into your daily life? Do you feel like you use your imagination a lot? Or is it something you rarely tap into?

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  1. Where do you think Olivia's never-fail financial advice actually came from?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Imagine That is rated PG for some mild language and brief questionable behavior. It's suggested that Olivia's blanket is the sort of blanket that lets children develop their inner eye. Jonny Whitefeather tries to get his own son to be a seer in a similar fashion to Olivia and hops him up on Red Bull in the process. I suspect this scene is the "questionable behavior" referred to in the MPAA's rating.

What other Christian critics are saying:
  1. Plugged In
  2. Crosswalk
  3. Catholic News Service
  4. Past the Popcorn

Imagine That
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for some mild language and brief questionable behavior)
Directed By
Karey Kirkpatrick
Run Time
1 hour 47 minutes
Eddie Murphy, Thomas Haden Church, Yara Shahidi
Theatre Release
June 12, 2009 by Nickelodeon
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